Note: The following story (or most of it, anyhow) takes place immediately after the events of the AU story Thicker Than Water, roughly parallel to DS9 sixth season episode, Statistical Probabilities.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine belongs to a gang of Ferengi privateers from somewhere in the vicinity of Beta Cruxis. Or possibly to Paramount. In either case, I am not one of those people, and whatever Latinum I could ever have received from this comes only in my dreams.
"Men love their children, both the better off and those of no account; for some have wealth, and others have it not, but all the race has love for children."
"One thing, however, I am very sure of, and that is, that if all mankind agreed to meet, and everyone brought his own faults along with him for the purpose of exchanging them for somebody else's, there is not one man who, after taking a good look at his neighbour's faults, would not be only too happy to return home with his own."
(Herodotus, Histories, VII.152.)
Something about a choice, once made…
It was not a feeling that Richard Bashir could easily define. Not something that he could take from himself and hold up to the light, to examine like a brightly coloured, delicate specimen. It was so nearly out of his reach, almost too far even to retrace the story of how it had come to be.
All that he sensed - at first - was the tiniest seed of an idea, tickling the edges of his mind as though it were a sliver of gravel in his shoes. And, as days passed, the seed grew, unfurled, and sprouted into a complex but noticeable form. Unspoken thoughts wrestled angrily inside him, coming together like the solid dark clouds of a storm on the horizon.
A quick fix, some people had said. An easy solution - a cheat. But now, at last, the storm had abated. A choice, once made was all that it had taken to part those clouds, just enough to let in the merest glimpse of light.
For some reason, Richard found himself drawn away from his side of the bed, where three unrewarded hours spent in his search for sleep had seemed like half a night. As her husband wrapped himself in a loose, knee-length robe, Amsha stirred only slightly at his absence. And just as quietly, Richard tucked both feet into a pair of oak-brown slippers and paused to smooth the covers again over her shoulders.
Across the hall, a narrow blue door - with the shadows of straight edged, parallel indents around it - marked the sleeping quarters of his and Amsha's only son. The father entered secretly, cautiously, to position himself at the young boy's side - and settled without a sound, taking care not to wake his sleeping child.
Julian was smiling - eyes shifting quietly from side to side, long, dark lashes fanning out across the upper edge of his cheeks. The child's face was calm, even as he squirmed in his sleep, and as his fingers curled around the ears of his caramel-brown teddy bear. Richard lifted a corner of the bed sheets and smiled down at the face of his child. No doubt his dreams would be filled with the promise of adventure among the farthest stars.
"None of us is ever the same from one day to the next," his contact had assured him, in a steady, even timbre to match the calm of her eyes. "We learn. We grow. And the minds of children are particularly adaptable. Your son is at the ideal age, but this will become more difficult, the older he gets. If we are to go ahead with this procedure, it is best that you make your decision quickly. I promise the boy you take home will still be yours. Improved, certainly. But in every essential aspect, he will not be any less your son. If all goes well, he should only have the dimmest memory of ever having been any different."
No need to explain to the boy why they would be taking this long journey. The intricate reasoning behind their decision would probably only confuse him even more. Just tell him what he already believed. This would be a brilliant adventure, reaching further than they had ever been beyond the safe confines of Earth. Even his dreams would scarcely compare to the amazing sights that they would find along the way.
"We've spoken about this." Richard placed an arm around Amsha's shoulders. His words had come softly, but with as much determination as he knew how to muster. They sat together beneath a broad, verdant tree at the edge of their favourite public garden - with the same view they had gazed upon, when deciding that the time had come to raise a family. The Sun shone down with a warm, golden light - its rays wavering through the leaves above like the reflections from the surface of a rippling pond.
There would be other benches for them to sit, Richard reminded himself. Other neighbours at their next new home. Other parks, other streets, other favourite destinations…
Summer was particularly bright that year, giving them an early afternoon glow - but only enough to keep each day just comfortably warm. And Richard waited, glancing at the profile of his wife, seeing her look down so that the gleaming black of her hair concealed all but a fraction of her face. Her rueful gaze turned straight ahead. But she offered no indication of paying any heed to the panorama before her.
Even the sight of her own child straddled over a long, plastic tunnel - attached at both ends to a complicated climbing frame - had not distracted Amsha Bashir from the uncertainty gathering like a mist across her eyes. "You know it's for the best," continued Richard. "We're giving him a chance. That's all."
"Richard-" Again, Amsha's dark eyes pleaded, sparkling with reflected light across their surface. Her sweetly exotic voice was even softer than it had been throughout the day. "I wish I could be as sure as you are."
Richard took her hand in his, clasping it lightly so that their fingers intertwined. With his free arm wrapped securely around the top of her shoulders, he drew her close until he felt the soft touch of hair against his cheek. It was the closest to comfort that he knew how to give - or even to find. The task fell to him, to mask his own persistent doubts, to convince his family that this was really the best choice they could have made. To Amsha, to his son, he had already vowed never to show them any uncertainty.
"It's for Jules," he reminded her, and stroked the back of her hand with a single thumb. He felt the gentle pressure of her weight against his chest, as she leant back with a slow and heavy sigh. Her face was shielded from view, but her whispered response was quiet and mournful.
Two other boys had come to the park. Both were naturally thin, like Richard's son - but older and taller. One of them was freckled, the other with hair the colour of powdered rust. Quick to lose interest in the younger boy, the pair soon turned and scampered away towards the surrounding trees. Julian stared forlornly after them, still straddling the tunnel of the climbing frame. His hands were raised and clasped together to safeguard the collection of treasures that he and his vanished companions had gathered from the leaf litter below.
His attention soon shifted to the shady bench, where his parents sat and watched him in return. He squinted, thoughtful, focused, and somewhat distracted by his mother and father's distant exchange. A frown had creased the skin of his brow, giving a touch of quiet confusion to the shadows falling across his eyes.
Seeing the pensive expression on the face of his six year old son, Richard set his jaw, and paused to add a silent reminder of his own.